There are several things it's important to say to a child. The first is to tell them how much you love them and the second is to say the simple, single word "no".
Unless you're happy for them to run the household and your life, then you mustn't be afraid to use that word. And mean it.
You're not going to give them some sort of complex or stifle the development of their unique personality. A child who doesn't understand "no" will definitely develop a unique personality, but usually in a direction that's decidedly antisocial.
Children need limits and predictable and consistent responses if they're going to be happy and responsible adults.
Cynthia Whitham (author of The Answer is NO - saying it and sticking to it) holds that when parents begin to say "no", children begin to learn about the rights of siblings, parents and friends.
"They learn to look at life through the eyes of others, the first step in becoming empathetic."
They also need limits on things that just aren't good for them - too many sweets, too much television viewing, unsafe activities, too many late nights.
It's easy to be worn down by the arguing, pleading and tantrums. Give in and they learn that if they can make enough fuss, they can get their own way. Therefore, it's important to be sure you know why you're saying "no" and what you hope to achieve by it.
As your children get older, review your reasons for saying "no". Be prepared to give your reason, but not necessarily to debate it.
When they reach mid-adolescence, be prepared to listen to their request for reconsideration of a "no". Your "no" could become a "maybe, let me think it over".
There are lots of different ways of saying "no".
Try humour - "I suppose you think I say no because I'm mean - well, it's true."
Relate it to family policy or values - "that's not something we do in this family".
Remind them of the rule - "homework first".
Mention any positive angle - "sounds like a good idea but it's too late tonight." Or "I'd like to say yes but you've got a big weekend ahead, so off to bed."
Offer an alternative - "I don't think that's a good idea, but how about ..."
Give some hope - "We can't afford that at the moment but next month we could manage to at least ..."
Repeat the instruction. For example, give an end-of-activity warning "five more minutes" and follow any requests for extension time with a simple (and repeated) "Time's up, we're on our way".
"All my friends are allowed to" - "I'm sorry that you've got that problem but that's the way it is".
© Ian Munro 2012. All rights reserved.